The Samsung Instinct is a new high-end phone available exclusively from Sprint. It comes loaded with 3G high-speed networking, a GPS receiver, Sprint TV, a web browser and email, and more.
Samsung and Sprint have made no secret that they want the Instinct to go head-to-head with the iPhone. While I don’t think this model is going to completely steal Apple’s thunder, those who want something iPhone-esqe but want to stick with Sprint should seriously consider this device.
Inside this Review
- Sleek and Smooth
- Get Your Fingers Ready
- It’s Also a Phone
- Email and Messaging
- Text Entry Made Easy
- Where You Are and Where You’re Going
- Voice Activated
- Music, Video, and Pictures
- Browsing the Web
- Personal Information Management
- Notes for Smartphone Users
- Good and Bad News about Battery Life
When it’s off, the Instinct is a sleek and curvaceous black and charcoal slate. When on, the front is dominated by its 3.1-inch, 240-by-432-pixel touchscreen.
This device has been crafted for those looking for a touch-based phone, and is controlled almost entirely with your fingertips on that relatively large screen.
There are a few physical buttons, though. The most useful of these are the power button on the top and the volume buttons on the left side. The Home and back buttons on the front will get plenty of use, too. There’s also a dedicated camera button so you don’t have to fumble around with on-screen menus when you need to snap a picture quickly.
The Instinct is small enough to be easy to carry around, especially if you’re brave enough to do so without the slipcover that comes with it.
Because the software running on the Instinct has been designed from the ground up to be finger friendly, it’s full of large, easy-to-hit icons.
When you turn the device on, you get a list of your favorite functions. This gives you almost instant access to the things you do often, like call your girlfriend, start playing a group of songs you like, open your email or a website, or start watching a TV station.
The full list of options are grouped into tabs you can select at the bottom of the screen.
The first of these tabs is Main, where you’ll find a links to Email, Navigation, Calendar, etc. The second tab is Fun, which has Music, TV/Video, Games, and more. The final tab is Web, where you’ll find the browser and links to a variety of online services, like movie listings, weather reports, and news headlines.
You can easily launch and control all of these with your fingertips… with one exception: the web browser. There’s very little Samsung or Sprint can do to make websites more finger-friendly, because most of them just weren’t designed that way. Fortunately, the Instinct comes with a stylus for the rare occasions you need one.
Before I dive into details on the advanced features of this device, I want to bring up one of the most important of them: making phone calls.
There’s a hardware button on the front of the Instinct that’s appropriately shaped like phone. This opens up a whole section on the device devoted to making calls.
When this opens you’re given your speed dial list. You populate this with the numbers you call most often from your list of contacts.
This is another area that’s organized into tabs. In addition to the Speed Dial tab, there’s also one for your contacts, another for your dialing history, and a fourth that’s a good ol’ fashioned numberpad where you can easily dial a number.
Like most good phones these days, the Instinct lets you use a Bluetooth headset. This is good, because otherwise holding ithe unit up to you ear can dirty up your all-important display. You can also use the serviceable wired headset that’s included.
The Instinct offers email plus text and picture messaging. I tend to prefer email, as it’s not limited in the ways SMS and MMS are, but if you want to send notes to your friends’ phones, texting is often the only option.
I have my device set up to check my Gmail account, but it can work with just about every ISPs mail system. The setup process is easy, and your phone will periodically check for new messages and notify you when one arrives.
There’s no set-up process at all with the text system, and I think you’ll like entering messages on the Instinct’s keyboard (more on this later). If fact, entering text is so easy I predict you’ll get irritated by SMS’ 160 character limitation and switch to email.
Writing emails means lots of text entry, and that’s a problem on phones for many people. We all know someone who can use the numberpad on a phone to write amazingly fast, but it seems horribly cumbersome to me, and the learning curve is atrocious.
If you agree, you’ll appreciate the Instinct’s relatively large keyboard that has keys in a standard arrangement. But this isn’t a physical keyboard; you type directly on the screen with your thumbs, holding the phone horizontally between your two hands.
Because the on-screen buttons don’t move when you hit them the way the ones on a hardware keyboard do, Samsung has included something that simulates this: whenever you touch a button, the Instinct will vibrate slightly. I know this doesn’t seem like it would help, but it does.
I also like that it offers spell check. Misspelled words automatically turn red, and tapping on them brings up a list of suggestions.
As the iPhone has been widely criticized for it’s lack of cut-and-paste, it’s only fair to point out that this device lacks it too.
Still, I have been impressed with Instinct’s text-entry system since I first saw the device in April, and nothing has happened to make me like it less.
The keyboard doesn’t have to be in horizontal mode; you can switch it to portrait. This makes text entry slower, but it’s easier to use with one hand.
There’s even a method that allows you to enter letters and numbers by sketching them out on a pad. This is painfully slow, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Thanks to to its GPS receiver, this phone can locate itself precisely, and show you that location on a map. It can then give you turn-by-turn spoken directions to wherever you want to go.
You don’t have to know the address, either. You can ask for the location of nearby grocery stores and it will help you find one. A feature I predict will be popular is a live listing of how much gas stations are charging near you per gallon.
If you often travel in unfamiliar places, this could be one of the most useful tools in this phone. Once you get used to the Instinct’s navigation system, I predict many of you are going to start using it all the time, whether you need it or not.
As I said before, the Instinct can help you find the places you’re looking for. But when you’re driving around looking for something, you don’t want to pull over to type in an address or business name. Don’t worry, this phone has you covered.
You can just tell it, out loud, what you’re trying to find, and the Instinct can give you directions to it. This can be an address, or you can just say “coffee” and it will find you nearby coffee shops.
You can also use voice commands to call people in your address book, or even enter a new phone number to dial.
More and more people are forgoing a dedicated MP3 player and instead listening to music on their phones. The Instinct is a good device for this.
The on-board player lets you create playlists, or you can just have to shuffle through everything on the device.
This phone comes with a 2 GB storage card, but you can replace this with a higher-capacity card in a few seconds if you want to carry around 8 GB or more of music.
You can listen to your songs through the set of headphones that come with the Instinct, or use your own.
Loading files on the device couldn’t be easier. Just plug the Instinct into a Mac or Windows computers USB port and it will immediately appear as a removable drive. You can then drag and drop files over.
You can play video files you’ve loaded on this device, but I think a better option is watching live TV stations. There are good variety of these available, offering news from CNN, sports coverage from Fox and the NFL Channel, kids programming from Disney and Nickelodeon, and more. And to be clear, these are the regular TV stations playing live on your phone, not just some pre-recorded snippets.
There are also a selection of streaming music stations if you don’t want to load the memory card up with MP3s.
Like all mobile phones, the Instinct has a built-in camera to allow you to create your own images and video. This is 2 MPx, which makes it above what you get on your average low-cost phone.
One of my favorite parts about it is it’s quick. Some high-end phone cameras have a delay between when you press the shutter button and when the actual picture is taken; not the Instinct.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a couple of example pictures I took:
Both images are exactly as they came from the camera, without any touching up.
The Instinct supports Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A service, so it should be able to access websites at high speed. While this is true, its web browser is so lame that the whole experience is disappointing.
It is somewhat slow to render pages, and it lacks support for Web 2.0 features. There’s no way to view YouTube videos, for example, and it chokes on Google’s online services.
Browsing the Web is the only time the 240-by-432-pixel display feels cramped to me. You can hide many of the elements on the screen, giving you a nearly full-screen experience, but that’s still not enough.
Maybe I’m being too hard on the browser, but everything else about the Instinct is so slick that the browser looks weak in comparison.
But don’t take my word for it. I’ve handed this device over to three of my friends to get their opinions. All of them made a bee-line for the browser, and all were disappointed.
Fortunately, Samsung has included a number of special-purpose applets that give you access to information over the Internet without having to open the browser (see here). It can automatically generate a listing of the movies playing near you, and give you weather information, too. (By the way, this is another example of GPS coming in handy.)
Still, the iPhone has raised the bar for mobile browsers, and the one in the Instinct doesn’t measure up.
People have been using their phones to store their friends’ and family’s contact information for years, and the Instinct takes that to the next level.
This device’s contacts list allows you to store a goodly amount of information about each person: multiple phone numbers and email addresses, mailing address, notes, and even a picture.
The Instinct’s calendar is a handy way to remind you of upcoming events. Setting up events is a touch cumbersome and slow, and there’s no way to create a re-occurring event, but it gets the job done unless you’re trying to be exceptionally organized.
You can also create notes. These have to be quite short, 300 characters, but that’s enough for most shopping lists, etc.
You don’t have to worry about a problem with your phone erasing all this information, either. You can have it all periodically backed up onto a Sprint server.
Most of the people who will be buying the Instinct will be upgrading from a device with fairly limited capabilities. But the Instinct has attracted the attention of many long-time BlackBerry, Palm, or Windows Mobile users. If you’ve been carrying around a Treo or Pearl for a while, there’s a few things you should know about this phone.
It’s going to be a step back from what you’re familiar with in several areas. The PIM applications are fairly rudimentary in comparison, and the web browser is barely adequate.
You can install Java applications, but few of these compare well to the third-party software available for Windows Mobile or Palm OS smartphones. I tried one of the best available, Opera Mini, to replace the lackluster web browser but was stymied, as this app wouldn’t recognize the keyboard. Update: I’ve been told Sprint is aware of this, and is working to fix the problem.
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So if you’re looking for a business-class device, this isn’t it. The Instinct isn’t trying to be anything but fun, though.
Even the best device is useless when it runs out of power, so the battery life of a phone is critical. The Instinct’s is acceptable, but not great. With regular use I’m consistently getting two days on a single charge.
At the end of the second day. the device will tell me that it still has a roughly 40% charge, but if I don’t plug it in it will have shut itself down to reserve power by the next morning.
Fortunately, Sprint realizes people often want more than 2 days of use out of their phone, so it includes a second battery. Even better, the spare battery comes in a small case that can also be used to recharge it. A single power cord can be used to recharge the Instinct or its backup battery, making charging on the road a snap.
Screen: 3.1 Inch, 240 by 432 Pixel Touchscreen
Dimensions: 4.6 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.5 inches
Weight: 4.4 ounces
Camera Resolution: 2 Megapixels
Communications: Bluetooth, CDMA, EV-DO
Keyboard Type: On-screen
Storage Card: microSD
There’s a lot to like in the Samsung Instinct. It’s nice looking, easy to control with either a fingertip or your voice, and offers some great features, like email with easy text input, streaming TV, music player with gigabytes of storage, and more.
It’s only real flaw is a weak web browser. Unfortunately, that’s one of the areas where the Instinct needs to be strong if it’s going to be a serious competitor for the iPhone 3G.
Still, the fact that the Instinct sells for significantly less than Apple’s smartphone — $130 vs. $200 — certainly helps it compete.